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Pandora's Box Office Hit
by Asa Butcher
2009-12-19 10:30:13
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Directed by James Cameron
2009, 20th Century Fox

Earlier today I visited an alien planet. I was fully immersed in the vibrant colours and spectacle of its flora and overwhelmed by the peculiarity and enormity of its fauna. I blinked when pollen almost floated into my eyes and I was certain that something or someone blue was watching from the depths of the jungle. The planet was called Pandora and it was created by a man called James Cameron for Avatar, his first film since 1997's Titanic.

How much introduction does James Cameron's Avatar require? The film has been one of the most highly-anticipated films of the decade bringing back memories of the fever that preceded the release of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park back in 1993. However, we now know that the first appearance of those dinosaurs delivered a rare cinematic thrill that send chills down your spine as you sit in the darkness, so the question on everybody's lips is whether Avatar can match or, dare we say it, exceed the hype?

Yes is the opinion of this humble reviewer, who is thankfully not suffering from any after-effects following his jaunt to an alien world, albeit cinematically. Avatar is a visual feast that can and will overwhelm your senses, especially if you have a pair of 3D glasses perched on your nose that will cause you to instinctively flinch when gravel is flicked into your face from one of the six legs of the alien creature you are following very close behind.

Cinema has taken us to planets before, such as Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but part of my mind was never able to fully suspend that disbelief until today – did I need any inoculations for my brief visit to Pandora? Don't worry, I'll tackle the acting, music and other bits in a paragraph or two, but for now my love letter to this new WEGA digital format must go on because you never felt the technology intruding on the story or even notice it coming. If you consider that the entire planet is based inside a computer and the main characters are also digitally-manipulated then the fact that you aren't consciously aware of the effects is testament to their gradual and subtle introduction in the story.

The environment is breathtaking but this would be reduced to rubble – in fact, it is at one point in the film – if the Na'vi, the blue-coloured native tribe living on Pandora, and the menagerie of bizarre wildlife failed to be realistic, so when Sam Worthington's avatar scrunches his toes in the dirt you can't fail to be totally convinced of this new technology's ability to create believable humans/aliens. The fact that the actors, such as Worthington and Sigourney Weaver, are recognisable under their digital masks and can still act demands further kudos.

Avatar is Sam Worthington's show, with the occasional moment stolen by Stephen Lang's hard-as-granite Colonel Miles Quaritch and shared with Weaver, but to think that the Australian actor was a relative unknown before getting the part - this was before his role in McG's Terminator Salvation - shows the talent this actor possesses. It is as his avatar Jake Sully that Worthington shines like a, well, sapphire and we are helplessly drawn into this curious world and its people through his performance – if only he'd smile a little more often though!

For smiles we turn to Sigourney Weaver in her first James Cameron film since 1986's Aliens and the world is better off for their reunification. Her role as Dr. Grace Augustine, along with Zoe Saldaña's Neytiri, Sully's Na'vi princess love interest, ensures that the overly masculine film also has strong female characters to bring some equality to the proceedings. There is a great deal of testosterone pumping through the celluloid, but the film does focus on Marines fighting on an alien planet and a species with a flair for shooting a bow and arrow from flying... things!

Ladies, don't be put off by my last comment because the film has enough for all tastes, especially considering its running time pushes three hours. It is one of the cinematic spectacles of the decade, certainly one of the bluest, and if you can it in 3D then even better. The 3D isn't, errr, in your face, so to speak; yes, the pollen and flying gravel make you flinch but they are merely part of the immersion experience, yet the three dimensions provide a depth to the forest that fool the mind and drag you inside even further, so far that you might not want to leave the splendour that is James Cameron's Pandora.

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